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For a better life, communicate

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By Jenna McKenna

Have you ever had a great idea you wanted to share, but didn't know how to start? Have you ever wanted to ask for something, but didn't know how to do it? Do you think you could be a lot more successful if you could just act on some of your plans?

There's a link between the inside world of the mind and the outside world of other people. That link is communication. Some people are really good at it; others less so. The good news is, with practice, anyone can get better at it.

Jim Green of Cedar Key wants to be the one to help people get better at communication. He thinks that people of all ages in Cedar Key could use a little help in getting what they want, and putting their ideas to work.

Not many people in Cedar Key communicate as much or as well as Jim Green. If you've stood still for more than a few minutes, you've spoken with him, because he speaks to everyone. He and his wife Linda go down to the Post Office together, his wife and her golden retriever riding in the runabout, and Green walking along beside them.

Often, what he wants to talk about is Toastmasters, an organization dedicated to teaching leadership skills through public speaking, or Gavel Club, a branch of Toastmasters for youth.

Unlike some of the 12 to 18-year-olds in his current Gavel Club, some of whom were as young as 5 when they started, Green came the long way around to Toastmasters.

When he was 15, in 1944, he joined the Navy.

"My mother refused to sign the permission," he recalls. "I had already lost one brother (in World War II), and I had another brother overseas, and she wouldn't sign."

Green said he pestered her until she told him, "Do what you want; I won't stop you."

"I forged her name on the permission," he says, and laughs. "I didn't know then that forgery was a felony!"

Green's attempt at persuasion worked then, but many times in the ensuing decades he found himself stalled, unable to make others see his way.

"There were numerous times when I had a good idea to put forth, but I was simply unable to communicate it," he says.

Early on, his opportunities were very limited. He started out as a steward in 1944 - "a mess attendant." After 1948, when President Truman signed Executive Order Number 9981, integrating the Armed Forces, Green was promoted to supply clerk - "storekeeper," he recalls with some asperity.

Green served in the Pacific theatre of war,

After the Korean War, Green had shore duty in Rhode Island, then was informed the Navy wanted to send him back to sea.

"I didn't want to go to sea," he says. "I wanted to go to fire school (computer-controlled missile training) because that was the longest school there was."

Green went to fire school, which he said consisted of electronics, radar and computers, then training on specific systems.

"A big part of it is solving fire control problems," he says. "It's what every hunter does here - see the bird, lead the target, then hope the shot and the target get there at the same time. The difference with missiles is you're shooting at a target you can't see."

With his understanding of computerized firing systems, Green spent some time at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, then went on to various other military installations. On the heels of his extensive technical training, he again had the opportunity to think about communication problems when he was working on an Air Force project at Ascension Island, in the South Atlantic between Brazil and Angola.

"A friend of mine was also there, and he got the same pay as the senior manager on the island," Green says. "He was in radar - he didn't know a thing about radar! - but he was a fantastic communicator! If there was anything he needed to know, people would fall all over themselves trying to help him."

The other thing he learned at Ascension, Green says, is that the Air Force is just wild about slide show presentations - but he had yet not learned how to make them.

"I think I missed some opportunities for promotion back then," he says.

Green did pretty well in his field, and taught himself a great deal about communication. But at one point in the 80s, something happened that helped him put it all together.

He and his wife had retired to Nova Scotia, and were watching public television one evening.

"An announcement came on about Toastmasters, and my wife said, 'I might be interested in that. Go check it out.'"

He did, and was hooked. She ended up not joining, after all. No matter, Green was hooked.

"So many times," he says, "when I was learning a new skill, I would look back on my career and say to myself, 'If I had only known this, or that' it would have helped so much!"

With this revelation, Green said, he wanted to bring the benefits of Toastmasters to people at the beginnings of their careers, people who could benefit from the foresight of communication, rather than the hindsight of understanding. He began to volunteer at the East Dartmouth Learning Center, a resource center for at-risk youth, young unwed mothers, and other severely disadvantaged young people.

"Some of my students went back to school; some went to jail," he said. "But one girl took the opportunity to finish school, go to college, then to law school, and got a good job at a big law firm. I said to myself, 'That's one.'"

Green and his wife eventually moved from Halifax to Gainesville, where he established a Gavel Club, and from Gainesville to Cedar Key, where he would like to establish another Gavel Club.

He sees Cedar Key youth as having plenty of tools to make opportunities for themselves, provided they get a little assistance in communicating. Toastmasters and Gavel Club, with their adherence to rules of order, parliamentary procedure and organized public speaking training, are an excellent way for adults and young people to learn to deal with individuals and organizations, and project their own thoughts and ideas.

"The sooner they start," he says, "the better."

Green is already more than halfway to a Toastmasters Club. The Cedar Key Lions have agreed to pay the new club's charter fee, and several businesses have agreed to sponsor new members. Green has 12 committed members out of the 20 he needs.

For the Gavel Club, he just needs a couple of committed adults to offer about 45 minutes a week.

"That's how long the meetings last."

For 45 minutes a week, the rewards can last a (very rewarding) lifetime.